By Michael Torano, Director of Marketing and Public Relations

Where are the arts in our schools?

“When I was a student, I remember music, dance, drawing, singing classes”.  I hear this quite consistently in my discussions with patrons, corporate sponsors, and fellow parents.  As a father of two boys, ages 15 and 8, I have to say, I share this sentiment.  There just doesn’t seem to be much these days in the classrooms regarding artistic education much less, the performing arts.  I’m sure this has much to do with changes in curriculum and budgets and what schools boards deem “necessary” or “frivolous” in educating our youth.  I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field but it doesn’t take an expert to notice that the arts are a virtual ghost in public schools.  Where will tomorrow’s adults gain exposure to the beauty of dance, the majesty of music in orchestra or the magnificence of the human voice?  Will we leave this entirely to top 40 radio or Dancing With The Stars?

We’ve always strived to fill this void in public schools through our education and outreach programs.  Many don’t realize that Knoxville Opera is much more than fully-staged opera productions at the Tennessee Theatre.  Each year, we produce and perform well over 100 community and education outreach events primarily for K-12 students in public schools.  These are concerts, Opera 101 interactive engagements and even staged performances such as this season’s Shakespeare Project in cooperation with Dr. Jim McIntryre, Superintendent of Knox County Schools.

Today, we kick off our performances of Romeo & Juliette in the first of 14 Knox County middle schools.  This series will focus on public middle schools and has been a collaborative effort between Knoxville Opera and Knox County Schools.  This entire series of staged, costumed performances is a gift for the students of Knox County and specifically designed to fit into auditoriums and gymnasiums.  Lead by Maestro Brian Salesky who’s no stranger to the education scene, KO delights in presenting an abbreviated version of Gounod’s opera Romeo & Juliette in English for 4th-8th grade students….completely free of charge.  The whole series is presented at zero cost to Knox County Schools, the parents, kids, teachers, PTA’s or the schools themselves.  Knoxville Opera has successfully solicited private, foundation and corporate support of this endeavor to deliver opera performances directly to the students on their turf.  33 elementary schools are sending 4th-5th grade students to these middle school performances with bus transportation provided by Knoxville Opera, also free of charge.

Click to view a sample of The Shakespeare Project!

In addition to our many continuing programs we are particularly excited about our season-long Shakespeare Project.

Huge endeavor? Yes it is, but we feel it is an incredibly important aspect of education and we strive to continue to deliver this to our students.  In all, there will be over 12,500 students attending these performances January 10th – the 19th.  Tenor Stefan Barner and soprano Anna Eschbach, recent graduates of the University of Tennessee Opera Theatre program, will be singing Romeo and Juliette.  Bringing this presentation into the schools is a key element of our season-long Shakespeare Project cornerstoned by our productions of Romeo & Juliette (February 10, 12) and Verdi’s Otello (April 27, 29) at the Tennessee Theatre.  Knoxville Opera would like to humbly thank Walter Mencer, Instrumental Music Specialist of Knox County Schools, for working tirelessly for over six months to facilitate these in-school performances.  We’re in his debt for bringing this unique opportunity to our students.  Special thanks also to the Tennessee Arts Commission, Knox County, City of Knoxville, Arts & Heritage Fund, Pilot Flying J, Regal Entertainment Group, Comcast, Robert H. and Monica M. Cole Foundation, First Tennessee Foundation, Swann Endowment Fund, Rotary Club of Knoxville and National Endowment for the Arts for supporting this production.

For further information about the in-school performances or our other education/outreach initiatives or to support these goals, visit KnoxvilleOpera Education or contact Michael Torano at 865-524-0795 x28 or

I’ll see you…at the opera!

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